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What is cardiovascular disease?

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) , also know as heart disease. is a general term for conditions affecting the heart or blood vessels.

It is regarded as a risk factor for kidney disease because the heart and kidneys work very closely together. So if something goes wrong with the heart it can also lead to problems for the kidneys.


How does the heart and kidneys work together?

The kidneys can only filter the blood if there is enough blood passing through them. However, high blood pressure can damage the filters in the kidneys (called ‘glomeruli’).

The kidneys control the amount of salt and water in the bloodstream and, by sending chemical messengers (hormones) also control the contraction of the small arteries that set the blood pressure.

What happens when things go wrong?

If the heart stops pumping efficiently (‘heart failure’), chemical messengers are sent from the main veins to the kidneys, causing them to retain salt and water. This causes fluid build-up (oedema) and increased pressure in the main veins. Heart failure can also reduce the efficiency of kidney filtration, due to lower pressure in the arteries supplying the kidneys and higher pressure in the veins draining the kidneys.

Many types of kidney damage cause increased production of the hormones that control blood pressure, leading to high blood pressure (hypertension). This puts an additional strain on the heart and can, in the long run, cause heart failure. High blood pressure also increases the risk of damage to the arteries (atherosclerosis); coronary atherosclerosis can cause heart attacks.

“Atherosclerosis” is the technical term for a disease of arteries in which they become narrowed and inflamed with cholesterol deposits. In the heart, it causes heart attacks. In the brain, it causes strokes. When it affects the kidney arteries it can cause reduced blood supply to the kidneys (“renal artery stenosis’): this can cause reduced efficiency of kidney function and high blood pressure. Atherosclerosis can also cause a type of  irreversible kidney damage called “cholesterol embolism”, when tiny fragments of diseased artery detach and then get stuck in the small blood vessels inside the kidney.

Causes of cardiovascular disease

Many different things can increase the risk of getting CVD. These include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • High LDL-cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein)
  • Diabetes
  • Not taking enough regular exercise
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Having a family history of cardiovascular disease
  • Diet – a healthy, balanced diet is recommended for a healthy heart
  • Being of Afro-Caribbean or South Asian descent.


Cardiovascular disease prevention

A healthy lifestyle can help to lower your risk of getting cardiovascular disease or help to stop the condition from getting any worse.

You can help yourself by:

  • Not smoking – or trying to give up as soon as possible
  • Having a balanced diet – with plenty of fibre, fruit and vegetables and low levels of salt, sugar and saturated fats
  • Exercising regularly – at least 2 1/2 hours of moderate exercise a week, such as brisk walking, swimming or cycling.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight – through a healthy diet and regular exercise
  • Cutting down on alcohol.

Cardiovascular disease medication

Depending on your risk of cardiovascular disease, your GP may offer you

  • Tablets to lower harmful cholesterol in the blood (usually ‘statins’)
  • Tablets to lower blood pressure
  • Nicotine replacement to help you stop smoking
  • Aspirin (to reduce the risk of heart attacks)

Resources about cardiovascular disease

Speak to your GP if you want help and advice about preventing or managing cardiovascular disease (including advice on eating healthily, exercising and how to lose weight.

And always remember to speak to your kidney consultant or renal dietitian before starting a diet plan or new exercise programme if you are on a restricted diet due to kidney disease.


British Heart Foundation Heart Matters magazine -

Reviewed April 2019

Dr Soma Meran

Dr Soma Meran

Researcher spotlight

Dr Soma Meran, and the team at Cardiff University, will investigate what causes vascular-calcification (VC) so that new, more specific, treatments can be developed to improve heart health in kidney patients.

By studying cells, laboratory models and blood samples, they will investigate the link between inflammation and changes in artery walls that may lead to heart disease. 

By studying the biological processes linked to heart disease in chronic kidney disease, this research could help to identify new treatments targeting the unique changes that occur as kidney failure progresses. 

Our cardiovascular disease research

Our research is changing the lives for people living with kidney disease but more needs to be done.

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